Adding a Yard Drain

With spring coming and snow melting I thought I would post about the yard drain that I installed two summers ago to help with some drainage problems on my property. Following heavy rain, I had water pooling up against the back of my garage, and next to my pool shack, halfway across my back yard. The fix for the water pooling up against the back of the garage was fairly easy. Over time, the backfill around the garage foundation had obviously settled, so I had a landscaping contractor come in, lift all the interlocking brick around the back of the garage, add about 12" of compacted stone dust, and then reinstall all the interlocking brick giving me a nice slope away from the foundation.

Yard drain - installation in progress.
This however, only exacerbated the problem with the drainage in front of the pool shack. Heavy rain - three to four inch puddle of water about 150 square feet. I would also get large puddles on the other side of the pool shack, due to the landscaping at the back of the yard. Some research lead me to the concept of a yard drain - essentially a section of 4" drainage pipe coming up to a drain grate integrated with your landscaping, which allows water to run off the property. I'm fortunate that I have a fairly deep drainage ditch running across the back of my property line - so I could run a drainage line halfway back my property and have enough fall / slope in the pipe to allow for good water flow, and still be able to drain out the end of the pipe.

I was also in the process of levelling all my interlocking patio stone, so it was a good time to install the yard drain. The process started by lifting all the interlocking brick in path of the excavation. Trench digging by hand is definitely a skill - there are some good online videos on digging trenches - I made sure I had two very good shovels - one square shovel with a heavy wooden handle for cutting the sides of the trench, and one long handled spade for getting into the bottom of the trench and digging out the debris.

Start of the project - patio stone stacked on the right. Pipe and fittings in the foreground. The start of the trench.
Obviously, avoid a hot humid day or digging in the peak heat of the afternoon. One solid day of digging and we had our trench, in very hard, clay soil. I verified the slope periodically with a 4' level, to ensure I had at least a 1% slope (1/8" drop per foot of run) toward the back of the yard.
The excavation proceeds
 I wanted to install two drain points - one on each side of my pool shack, due to the way the ground sloped in my back yard. The outlet to the back of my yard had only one decent route between some mature lilac trees, and I wanted to minimize the number of roots to cross, so I had to have a cross trench in a T shape to pick up the second drain point.

T intersection in the trench.
I installed a T at each drain point, to create a shallow sump to trap sand a small rocks that may drop into the drain. Once a year, I'll remove the grating on the drain, and scoop out any debris in the bottom of the T fitting. The base of the T is plugged with a cap fitting.
The uppermost drain point. Note the duct tape closing off the drain pipe so that nothing gets into the drain while backfilling with earth. 
The long run from the uppermost drain.
Trenching across tree roots is not terribly difficult. Most roots run fairly close to the surface, and if you can avoid cutting the roots, and trenching through the roots, you give your trees the best chance of survival. It helps to have a small spade shovel (6" wide) to get inbetween the roots and faciliate cleaning out underneath the roots.
Note the T fitting and branch line to the second drain. The pipe runs underneath the lilac roots. 
Since I was going to have to reinstall my patio stone above the backfilled drain line, I took my time to ensure the drain line was very well compacted. The trick to compaction is shallow raises of your backfill - a couple of inches at a time, and compaction with a vibrating plate compactor makes it go much quicker. I rented this gas powered vibrating plate compactor for $20 for the day, including gas. Sprinkle some water on each raise to help with the compaction - just enough to make your backfilled earth moist, but not soaking wet.

Vibrating Plate Compactor, Gas Powered.
Long run partially backfilled.
Partial backfill.
With the backfill complete, it was time to reinstall the interlocking brick, and then install some grating on the drains to prevent leaves from getting into the drain pipe. 

Upper drain - completed, with grille installed. Very inconspicuous.

Lower drain on the T branch - grate installed.
These do a great job of preventing the accumulation of standing water in the back yard. The levelling and cleaning of the interlocking brick also made a big difference in how everything looks.


Cordless Tool Charging Station in Ikea Wall Cabinet

Part of the garage organization project included setting up a charging station for cordless tool batteries. I wanted a central place where I could install my chargers, and always have a few batteries charged and ready to go. I wanted the charging station to be hidden from view, and easy to keep organized but out of sight.

I set up  an extension cord from the closest outlet behind my Ikea cabinets to a convenient wall cabinet, and then installed a 3/8" plywood backboard to simplify the installation of the chargers. A coat of white paint helps keep the installation neat.

Plywood backboard installed with four small angle brackets. Note that the shelves are actually straight - the distortion is from the camera lens.
Next step was to install the chargers. I've standardized on two systems - 18V dewalt for most common handyman tools, and Ryobi 18V for my yard tools - cordless lawn trimmer, cordless hedge trimmer and cordless blower (I'm a pretty big fan of these three tools).

Dewalt charger on the left, Ryobi charger on the right. Mounting on the back wall of the cabinet maximizes space in the cabinet for batteries and tools, and helps keep things organized.
Dewalt and Ryobi chargers installed on the backboard. 
And finally, in front of the chargers - lots of space for the Dewalt 18V cordless shop vac, impact and drill.

Cordless tools - out of the way, always ready to go. 
Pretty simple project, took about an hour in total. Painting the plywood took the most time.


Garage Organization Using Ikea Kitchen Cabinets - Akurum or Sektion

One of the things that was sorely lacking in the new house was any form of garage organization - just a huge, empty, 40 x 18 x 10 foot box. Here's a photo of how things were organized following our move into the new house:

Next to no organization - piles of boxes and a big open mess.
I did a bunch of research, and looked at the garage storage systems in the big box home improvement stores. My impression of the systems offerred, both in metal and in melamine - was typically of mediocre quality, and a lack of flexibility. Typically, only one or two base cabinets and tall cabinets were offerred, so getting a good fit with my space would be difficult or impossible.

Then I went to Ikea and checked out the Akurum kitchen cabinet system. Here - lots of choice in base cabinets, wall cabinets and tall cabinets. Lots of widths, height, door and drawer combinations. In essence - exactly what I was looking for - full flexibility to implement a storage design taking into account my space available. (Note - I understand that the Ikea Akurum system will be replaced in 2015 by a new kitchen cabinet system - Sektion - but that shouldn't change the principles of implementing a similar solution in your garage). 

The first stage was to plan everything out. I'm a big fan of using Sketchup for 3D modelling projects around the house. It was quick and simple to draw my garage in sketchup, including the constraints such as the doors, stairs to the house, and two exposed beams that interrupt the flat wall surface on the side of the garage. I was able to find and upload pre-drawn models of the Akurum cabinet system, and of my motorcycle and table saw, directly from the Sketchup 3D warehouse. I had to work around my motorcycle, table saw, mini fridge, freezer and rolling toolbox. I wanted to have all my storage against one wall, to keep as much of the width free for the cars and space to work or do projects. 

Sketchup Plan of Ikea Akurum Storage System.
Once I was happy with the plan, and I reviewed the plan with my partner, it was time to get started. Due to the volume and weight of the cabinet system, I had Ikea deliver everything right to my house for a very reasonable delivery charge of about $40. The truck offloaded everything right into the garage:

Wall Cabinets, Tall Cabinets, Doors and Drawers
Then it was time to get started assembly. I had one cabinet that I had to cut and custom fit around a column protruding from the wall - so I started there.

Empty wall - ready for cabinets

I used two moving blankets to protect the cabinet components during assembly.

The first tall cabinet - fit around the wall column.
I decided to use the plastic levelling feed sold with the Akurum system to level all the cabinets. This system works really well. I made a simple jig to help me tilt the cabinets up vertically without damaging the plastic feet.

Jig for tilting wall cabinets vertical - you wouldn't need this if you had a second person to help you lift these vertically. 

Jig ties around the cabinet, allows you to lift the cabinet vertical with one person, without bearing on the plastic feet.

Plastic cabinet feet on the bottom of the wall cabinet, ready to tilt vertically. 
Once the first cabinet was raised into position, the remaining cabinets went quickly. I installed a thin strip of plywood along the cabinet tops to compensate for the offset of some ceramic tile on the wall at the bottom of the wall. This simplified getting the cabinets straight and solid against the wall.

Wall mounted plywood strip to compensate for the ceramic tile on the wall at the bottom. A laser level makes it quick and easy to install this straight and level.

Plywood strip - for seuring the top of the wall cabinets

Adding boxes to the initial wall cabinet. Levelling is quick and easy with the plastic cabinet feet.
Once all the wall cabinets are installed, its time for some doors and drawers. I went for the soft close hinges and drawer slides - makes for a polished installation.

Doors and Drawers almost complete
Once all the wall cabinets were complete, it was time to concentrate on the wall cabinets that would go above the table saw and deep freeze. I used the Ikea wall cabinet installation rail - which makes for a quick, easy, solid and straight installation.

For installing the wall cabinets - start by setting up the rail. The laser level simplifies placement and levelling
The first cabinet clips onto the rail using the installation hardware provided
Then two more cabinets clip on - the hardware for joining the boxes together is included with the boxes.
One tip for making the whole process go quicker - use an air powered trim nailer - brad nailer for tacking the back panels of the cabinets to the cabinet frames - this really speeds up the slowest part of the whole operation. Then the final touch - installing the door hardware:

This door hardware was selected from Lee Valley Tools - perfect for the garage
And now for the finished product - which ended up looking pretty well as planned in the Sketchup Model. The mini fridge fits perfectly under the wing of the table saw, and gives a nice work area when combined with the deep freeze. All in all - it took a solid weekend to get the installation to this point - 5 tall cabinets, 3 wall cabinets, 6 drawers, and 18 doors.

Cabinets installed

And the detail of the table saw - one sheet of slotboard finished in white matches the wall cabinets and ties everything together:

Slotboard to close out the installation.
Since this installation - I've made a series of improvements which I'll describe in future posts:
  • LED strip lighting over the table saw and deep freeze
  • 18V cordless tool charging station
  • Wall Cabinets and Storage Shelving installed over the motorcycle and rolling toolbox
  • Plano Hardware Storage in the Wall Cabinets
If you have any questions, feel free to post and I'll try to answer quickly. 

After about 15 months - this setup is still rock solid and very practical. I can't imaging working without it now.


Eavestrough Repairs and Preventing Downspout Blockages with Gutterstuff

Our latest house is two stories tall, with eavestrough at both levels. It's also situated close to many mature trees, and as I quickly found out, none of the downspouts were clear and working properly. In the summer we get oak seeds (double samaras) - some people call them helicopter seeds, and then in the fall we get leaves - lots of them.
Downspout blocked with tree debris
My first season in the house I tried to alleveiate the problem by installing spherical downspout strainers on all the downspouts. These worked - for about 2 weeks. And then they become completely blocked with leaves and as the leaves rod, they gradually allow infiltration into the downspout. It was definitely not the solution I was looking for.

My second season, I went looking for a better solution. I considered the plastic or aluminum covers that you can purchase, however I was worried about two aspects - i) fit; and ii) performance - would water just sheet off the cover and overrun the eavestrough? It seemed like too much trouble to install, and would be finicky to fit.

I stumbled across a product called Gutterstuff in my local home improvement store - it's a black, open cell foam cut into a triangular shape, which stuffs into your eavetrough gutters making it impossible for helicopter seeds or leaves to get down into the gutter and block your downspouts. It looked like it would work - so I bought half a dozen pieces to try out on my eavestroughs. 

The triangular shape leaves the bottom free for water to flow to the downspout. The top surface is completely closed - preventing any leaves or seeds to get into the downspout. This is the "K Style" Gutterguard. There are other shapes available.

The open cell design allows water to flow through very easily.
Installation is very simple - the pieces are 4 feet long, and stuff underneath the nails or screws that hold your eavestroughs to your eaves. It cuts with scissors, and can be easily fit around corners or odd angles.

Gutterstuff installed in both upper and lower eavestroughs

Transfer spout filters through Gutterstuff before continuing down the next downspout.
So - how does it work? Absolutely great! I haven't been up to clean out gutters by hand in 14 months now, and everything flows perfectly. No more overflowing gutters, no more water soaked brick, no more blocked downspouts. I find that leaves may land and rest on top of the gutters, but not for more than a few hours or a day. As soon as a little bit of wind hits the gutters, the wind will sweep the leaves off the top of the Gutterstuff keeping everything clear. Water sweeps right through the open cell foam, and does not splash or overrun the gutter. So far it's holding up well under the sun with no UV degradation.

If you have a problem with leaves and your eavestroughs, I highly recommend this product, it will work.


Central Air Conditioning Condensation Drain, Trap and Cleanout

Last summer I began having humidity problems in my house, even with the air conditioning running. A quick inspection of the fan coil unit showed that the evaporator condensate pan was not draining properly, leaving the pan full with water. As the fan circulated ventilation air when the air conditioner was not running, it would simply evaporate the water in the condensate pan, and bring it back into the house.

My condensate drain was constructed of 3/4" CPVC pipe, and the installer put in a simple P trap made of 90 degree elbows, as shown below. I tried flushing out the P-trap by putting a hose nozzle inside the fan coil unit - very awkward, and not very effective. I had to find a better way of cleaning out the trap.

Condensate drain made from 3/4" CPVC pipe and 90 degree elbows
A second issue with this drain was that there was no slope added to the pipe when it hit the floor and ran for about 20 feet.

Drain runs about 20 feed along the floor slab to a floor drain
To be able to get in and clean out the P trap, I cut the trap out of the system, and reinstalled it with two CPVC union fittings. I started by installing the top union, to be able to measure the down pipe on the other side to get the right height for the second union. When I got the P-trap removed, it was completely gunked up with scale, rust from the condensate pan, and spider webs. It was easy to clean out once removed.
Installing CPVC union fitting on the trap

Here's the finished trap with two unions installed. 
I also corrected the slope of the pipe running along the slab, to avoid water pooling in the flat runs, evaporating, and leaving scale. 

Shimming the drain pipe to get the correct slope 
Adding shims under the pipe straps to correct the drain slope.
All told, this project took a couple of hours, but it should reduce the amount of maintenance required to keep the pipe flowing, and greatly simplify cleaning out the trap. If you're putting in a new drain, consider putting in the union fittings right from the start. They're not expensive, about $4 or $5 for a 3/4" union.

Water fllowing through the drain line again.


My Indoor Air Quality Project

I've recently started tackling my indoor air quality project - I have a number of issues that I've been working on solving since moving into and renovating a 2500 square foot home with finished basement and two levels, and I'll post about the various solutions as I work through them.

Honeywell Prestige Thermostat
What are my issues?
  • Very dry air in the winter (dropping to the 20 to 24% range in the middle of winter on cold days;
  • Very humid air in the summer - getting up over 60% relative humidity
  • A musty odour on some days in the summer time, which tends to correspond with high humidity; 
  • Optmizing the HVAC performance, especially since one of the household members has Asthma, and seasonal allergies. For this reason, we rarely open the windows to the house, and rely on a Venmar ERV (energy recovery ventilator) for fresh air exchange.
The solution selected for the dry air in the winter was to install a whole house humidifier. I've been tracking humidity levels for the past two heating seasons, and I've been getting down to 24 or 25% relative humidity, and all the problems that go with humidity this low. Cracks opening up in hardwood floor, nosebleeds and dry throats, dry coughs, and the like. The installation of a Honeywell TrueEase central humidifier has solved the problem nicely. 

I suspect that my problem with high humidity levels in the summertime have been caused by two separate issues i) a blocked condensate pan drain, which keeps condensate water removed from the indoor air from the air conditioning evaporator recirculating in the indoor air stream, and ii) my Venmar ERV furnace fan interlock - which keeps the furnace fan running even when the air conditioner cycles end, not allowing the evaporator coil condensation enough time to drip down into the condensate pan and into the floor drain. Consequently, this condensate water just gets re-evaporated into the fan coil airstream, and back into the indoor air. Net result - buildup of humidity inside the house. The solution here was to correct the drain slopes, and to add unions to the condensate drain trap, to allow for easy removal and cleaning of the trap. I needed a way to independently control the ventilation ERV, the furnace fan, and timed with the air conditioning cycles, and the only thermostat that I found that would do that, and also independantly control humidifying, is the Honeywell Prestige 2.0 IAQ thermostat.

I also require central control of the humidifier in the winter time. This lead me to look at the latest generation of smart thermostats - in an attempt to get better control over the HVAC in my home, and address my air quality issues. I found that the Nest thermostat doesn't have the capability to intelligently control ventilation, has a single output to control humidification, and has the ability to control the air conditioning to control de-humidification. Similar situation with the Ecobee 3 thermostat. Finally, I found the Honeywell Prestige 2.0 IAQ thermostat - with the equipment interface module, it has three user outputs that can control ventilation (ERV/HRV), humidificationa and dehumidification. So - part of this plan included upgrading my thermostat and ERV control to the Honeywell Prestige IAQ thermostat.

I'll update this post as I work my way through this project.

Sources and Links

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